Enduring Faith, a Knights of Columbus documentary, explores the legacy of Indigenous Catholics in North America. Screen shot

Film captures story of 'Enduring Faith'

  • September 18, 2021

To understand what it means to be Catholic in North America, one must also understand the story of the Indigenous peoples of the land. That is the message behind the new documentary Enduring Faith: The Story of Native American Catholics, produced by the Knights of Columbus.

At just over an hour in length, the film explores the legacy of faith and impact of Indigenous Americans on Catholicism through the stories of Indigenous Catholics themselves and the impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

The film aims to inspire a deeper appreciation for the spiritual and cultural gifts of Indigenous peoples, raise awareness of the pains inflicted on them through unjust government policy and reflect a sense of hope through the ways in which Indigenous Catholics today continue to live out their faith and culture.

Directed by Emmy Award-winning director David Naglieri, the film was born out of a broader initiative spearheaded by the now retired Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, at the Knights’ convention in 2019 in Minneapolis. The goal was to build bridges with Indigenous groups across the United States and increase a sense of brotherhood. The initiative aims to increase awareness about the contributions Indigenous have made to the Catholic Church and provide deeper understanding for Catholics across North America of their rich heritage in the faith.

“Oftentimes when we think about the Catholic experience, at least in America, we automatically think of the Irish potato famine immigrants, large groups of Italians and Poles and other ethnicities that came late 19th century, early part of the 20th century, which dramatically changed the landscape of our country and give us a real Catholic identity,” said Naglieri, who is best known for directing the 2018 film Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism, which earned five Emmy nominations. “We easily can forget or be ignorant of the fact that Native American Catholics are practising their faith and oftentimes even dying for their faith, going back into the 1600s, so we wanted to bring a deeper awareness of that.”

The Knights’ project encompassed a number of initiatives, including building a shrine in New Mexico to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Algonquin-Mohawk laywoman who was canonized in 2012. It also brought Knights of Columbus charitable initiatives on to the reservations to better the lives of Indigenous, which included a Coats for Kids and wheelchair distribution project in the fall of 2019.

Anderson’s deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was part of the catalyst that helped to inspire the making of this film. He co-authored the New York Times bestselling book Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Civilization of Love in 2002. History says that a series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a later canonized farmer named Juan Diego in 1531 in Mexico. In the years that followed millions of Indigenous people embraced the Catholic faith.

“The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very much that you can embrace the Catholic faith without losing your Indigenous identity,” said Naglieri. “That key idea had a very big impact on Carl Anderson as the executive producer of the film and it’s still the guiding vision very much for what the Knights of Columbus are trying to do with the new evangelization and spreading devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

The many Indigenous members of the Knights also inspired the making of the film, including prominent members such as Patrick T. Mason, supreme secretary, and Graydon Nicholas, former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick who has sat on the Knights board of directors. They are just two of the 18 Indigenous and First Nation contributors of various backgrounds who lend their voices to the documentary.

Enduring Faith’s focus is primarily on the United States, but Nicholas delves into the impact John Paul’s 1984 and 1987 visit to Canada had on him and on First Nations’ people throughout Canada. During those visits the former pope spoke to Indigenous peoples about their inherent value and the dignity of Indigenous peoples and also famously participated in a smudge ceremony.

“That was one of the great elements of John Paul II’s papacy, the teachings of the dignity of the human purpose,” said Naglieri. “I think it’s great for Canadians watching this film to think back and remember the impact John Paul II had because I think it was a significant one all over the world and in Canada as well.”

Naglieri worked very closely with Fr. Henry Sands, executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. An Anishinaabe Ojibwe, Ottawa, Potawatomi from California, he served as the principal advisor of the film and is one of the most prominent interviews.

Enduring Faith, along with resources for discussion and reflection, are available on the Knights of Columbus website, www.kofc.org/en/news-room/enduring-faith.

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